Or: A Mountain Kicked My Ass, But I’m Fine with It
Welcome to the very first edition of the Weekly Peakly, a series of blog posts where I talk about my adventures as I take up hiking!
We’ll start out with the confession that I have not been hiking since I was a little kid, so I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. None. I am going to be a giant idiot about all of it and mess up a ton. There is, as I discovered today, a bit of a learning curve to this hobby. I’ll go into detail a bit more below, but suffice to say that I’m a beginner, and the mountain that I met today made sure that I knew it.
For our maiden voyage into hiking, I chose Wilderness Peak Loop, just outside of (inside of?) Issaquah, Washington.
When I was selecting my hike, my primary concern was distance. After all, that seems like the thing to be concerned with, being a beginner and all. I tried to pick a hike that was an appropriate length for my fitness level, based on what I do on a regular basis on the treadmill.
Wilderness Peak Loop is a 2-mile trail, making it a 4-mile hike round trip. This seemed feasible to me when I was looking at the trail information, because I regularly do about 2 miles on the treadmill in about 30 to 45 minutes. I figured it would take longer, being a mountain and all, but that it was still do-able as an activity for the day.
There were some hidden challenges that set me back. Turns out, distance can fuck right out of your head when shopping for a hike because the distance doesn’t matter one bit compared to the elevation gains. This particular trail has an elevation gain of about 1200 feet, all in that measly 2-mile stretch. What that translated to was a very short distance traveled in which a mountain kicked my ass and laughed about it.
Now, I made a couple of mistakes that gave the mountain a head start (I’ll cover them below). What they resulted in was me exuberantly failing to complete the hike. I made it about .75 miles up before I was totally tapped out of energy. My lungs were on fire and my thighs were accusing me of attempted murder. I stood there, absorbing the scenery, and accepted that I was not going to make it to the end of this trail if I still wanted to make it back down. I debated, briefly, wandering into the woods and becoming a witch of the mountain, but in the end decided I was not magically powerful enough for that career move yet, so I headed back without achieving what I’d set out to do.
That might sound depressing or discouraging, but my mood was so far from dour. I was not even at the halfway point, but my chest was still puffed up with a sense of delight and victory that’s rare for me. I turned and looked up at the path that I was abandoning, at the curves and ascent that I would not traverse this day, and instead of seeing failure spelled out amongst the mossy trees, I saw something even better than success would have been.
One of the things that motivates me more than anything is a good goal to reach for. Something tangible, something that I can progress toward while measuring each new step of success. From the minute my boots hit the trail, I felt like this mountain was speaking to me, making me a promise. I may have been winded and fretful, I may have been unprepared for the toll that the steepness would take on me, but this mountain knew it was all coming. It had seen it before, it would see it again in those that came after me. The trees and stone lining the trail had seen more than their share of failure, and they did not judge.
In fact, they ushered me on. The bird calls in the boughs of the pines were encouragement. The whispers of the water in the streams were like pats on the back. I pushed myself to go a bit higher and a bit further than I would have otherwise because I felt like this mountain wanted to be climbed.
There is a line in the song Various Storms & Saints by Florence + The Machine. “Don’t make the mountain your enemy.” I’ve always quite liked that lyric, and I use it as motivation and positivity for a lot of things. To me it symbolizes the idea that you shouldn’t believe everything is against you. The mountain – metaphorical or real – wants you to reach the top. It’s rooting for you. Something about that is incredibly comforting to me, to know that there is something on my side. I think this is true for the Universe at large, as well. Life wants you to succeed, wants you to prevail. Setbacks will happen, failure is inevitable, but if you don’t give up then eventually you’ll reach the point you want.
Failure doesn’t sting so bad if you believe someone was there with you, rooting you along. Even if they’re existential in nature.
My failure today didn’t sting at all. That mountain was proud of how far I had come, proud that I got out there and tried my best. I’m proud of it, too. I’ve come a long, long way to be able to do something as new and scary as go hiking by myself. Not just physically, but emotionally as well. The me of a few years ago would not have been brave enough to override my anxiety and do such a thing. Not by myself, maybe not even with friends. Me today, however, broke through a barrier that felt like it was going to be there forever. I broke down a wall that I had built around myself, a wall that had me assuming that I would never be fit enough or brave enough to scale mountains. Even though I didn’t reach the top, I took the first steps. I tried, and that doesn’t feel like failure. Not one bit.
Me and that mountain, we have an agreement now. I’m going to be back, and I’m going to keep coming back until I’ve hiked that whole trail. Me and that mountain are going to work on it together, and when I reach the top we’ll both be celebrating.
Just like we’re both celebrating the challenge itself, celebrating the beginning of something new to work on. Celebrating the wonder that is allowing myself to love something that I’m not the best at yet, but that I can grow with.
I am bad at hiking, but I won’t be for long.
Mistakes and R E G R E T S:
I feel like this will be a regular addendum to my hikes because I am a person that often makes mistakes. If I’m talking about my journey, I would be remiss if I didn’t include the mistakes that I made, the things I learned, and maybe a few tips you wouldn’t think of before.
There were definitely a couple of note-worthy mistakes made this time around.
1. Nutritional Miscalculation.
You would think that after working out for the last 8 months, I would have learned by now that me and exercise don’t get along if I have food in my stomach. My body, it seems, only wants to do one process at a damn time, and if you ask more of it, then you need to prepare for a fight. I went to therapy this morning and opted to grab breakfast after, on the drive to the trail head. This was a grave mistake, because by the time I got there I hadn’t had any time to digest at all, so I started heading up and my body was like “Excuse you, motherfucker, I’m digesting. Get the hell off this mountain and sit your ass down.” It really didn’t give me the energy that I would need to do my best. Next time, I need to make sure my meal comes at least an hour before I set out, or I risk getting pooped far earlier than I would otherwise.
2. Speed Kills
When I started walking, I walked at my normal pace. I walked with the same pace that I would have if I were trekking across a parking lot or down the street because that is the speed at which I walk and, as a normal human, I assumed that walking at my normal pace was…well, normal. This was, I think, my biggest mistake. Turns out when you are walking vertically, you should maybe slow the fuck down to conserve some energy. Ya girl tried to speed walk straight up the side of a mountain and just about busted a lung all over the trail because of it. If I had slowed down and set a more reasonable pace, I would have been able to go much farther, but I bungled it and wasted my energy on the very beginning of the trail because I thought sprinting like a goddamn deer was great for a human. By the time I figured out that slowing down was a better idea, I was already out of fuel, so it didn’t do me much good. I certainly recommend going slow, especially if you’re a beginner like me. It’s not a goddamn race, it’s a mountain. It ain’t gonna go anywhere if you take your time.
Hot Takes for Hikers:
Okay, having started this venture, I now have some observations, and these are things that I didn’t necessarily see from any of the hiking blogs or beginner’s guides that I perused before starting. If you’re thinking of starting this on your own, or you’re just generally curious, then this segment is for you.
Anxiety, the Mountain, and You
If you have anxiety, expect it to influence your first trip. This is unfamiliar territory, something I haven’t done before, and I was on my own. I had a lot of worries scurrying around in the back of my head. Most of them were not worth spending energy on, which is why I didn’t let them stop me, but that didn’t keep them from existing.
I know that part of the reason I ran out of energy was because I was nervous being out in the open, doing something strange. I had no experience to fall back on, so I was a ball of anxiety about it. I kind of expected it, though, because I had experience with weightlifting and how my nerves affected that. I am more confident and perform far better the second time I do an activity than I am the first, even if I know what I’m doing. When I went from lifting at home to lifting in the gym, my first session was timid and a little lackluster. I was disappointed until I realized how much of it had been nerves, because when I went back the second time I jumped up in abilities.
With hiking, I know that the second time I hike this trail I’m going to be so much more comfortable because I know where it goes, I know what the trailhead looks like, I know where to park. Don’t beat yourself up if you go and can’t get very far from the get-go, because first-time nerves are normal, and they will have an effect.
Capitalism Will Trick You
You are probably stressing too much about having the “right” supplies. I put off starting this hobby because I had read lists of recommended supplies, and I was trying to accrue all of them before I set out. Having been out once, I now realize that a lot of this was unnecessary and not worth the stress I had about going unprepared.
Beginner hikes are small enough that you really don’t need a big pile of rugged mountaineering gear. I was fretting about having a waterproof jacket and pants and a kit full of first aid supplies and flashlights and backup batteries and a backpack that could hold everything. I’d go look at outdoors-y stores like Eddie Bauer and flip my shit over the prices of things, wondering if I would ever be able to afford to go hiking because who the fuck can afford 400 dollars for a puffy jacket? I was starting to feel like it was more feasible to go kill a goose with my bare hands and just shove all its feathers inside a tarp because spending more than my car payment on a jacket is unreasonable, Karen.
The only supply you really need, the one that IS necessary on many levels, is a good pair of hiking shoes. Waterproof is probably a good idea. Everything else is negotiable. And when I say a “good” pair of shoes, I just mean something sturdy, not necessarily expensive. I spent about 80 bucks on mine, but you can find decent pairs on amazon for 40-60 bucks. For a beginner, you aren’t going to need the super heavy-duty, snow-proof, made of penguin hide and impervious to all weather effects that, based on the ads, are definitely aiming directly for your feet. Just a pair of fucking boots with bottoms that will provide traction and a coating that will keep the water out. THAT’S IT.
Here’s what I took on my first hike: Nike sports bag (that came free with some shoes forever ago, I’ve just had the poor thing holding extra ethernet cables in the back of my closet. I could hear it weeping, begging to be used for a sports, but until now I was just like, nah, cables, my good friend), water bottle, apple, string cheese, granola bar, one pair of cheap gloves that I bought at Ross for 2 dollars, one beanie that came with the gloves, my wallet, my keys, my phone, and a pair of earbuds (also cheap, like 6 bucks on Amazon. I’m cheap as fuck, y’all).
What I wore for my first hike: The hat that came with the gloves, a sports bra, an “active” shirt with long sleeves, a regular shirt worn over that (it was a Rush shirt, if you must know), one brightly colored jacket made out of lightweight material (a hoodie would have worked, but I was worried it would be raining, so I picked an “active” jacket that was theoretically water resistant – I’ve never tested it), a pair of “active” leggings, a pair of jeans over the leggings, thick Star Wars socks, and hiking boots.
I layered because I was worried about it getting cold or raining, but honestly you don’t have to. It depends on your tolerance of being cold and/or wet. For these short, beginner-level hikes, the most important thing is a pair of shoes, and everything else is to your own comfort level. Don’t let a list of “recommended supplies” keep you from getting out there and starting something you’re interested in doing.
The trip up the trail isn’t a piece of cake, by any means, but I found the trip down to be a lot trickier. I mean, it was easier from an exertion standpoint, but the footing was a lot more unstable when your steps are angled down. It took a little more consciousness to figure out where to place my feet to keep them from sliding in the mud, and on a trail as narrow as this one, I would have gone straight into a fuckin’ ravine, never to be found again except by enterprising bears. I mention this mostly because it surprised me. It’s not something that would have occurred to me setting out, and if I hadn’t been paying attention it would have been easy to try and rush back down the trail and then have a lot more sections in the Mistakes and Regrets category, assuming I lived to make the post.
Maybe it was just me, but I have never wanted a dog more than I did when I started climbing. There were a few other hikers out and about, some of them with fur friends, and I was overcome with jealousy. I desperately wanted to have a companion to take on this adventure, one who would be just as excited about a million slightly different trees as I was.
Hiking will make you want a doggo, so if you have one, you should consider taking them with you. If you don’t have one or can’t have one, you can at least look forward to running into them on the trail. The owners kept apologizing to me, but I was so fucking excited to meet each wagging bundle of joy! Not gonna lie, I wanted to take pictures of each dog to share in this post, but I thought it might be a bit weird to ask for canine selfies. I’ll just have to settle for the rad selfies I took of myself.
Hiking is amazing, and I cannot wait to get out there again next weekend. For now, though, I’ll just share a few thoughts on this trip, so that we can reflect on them until next time.
Song of the Hike: Misty Mountain Hop by Led Zeppelin. This song popped up twice on my playlist today, and it was a gloomy, misty kind of day, so I really can’t argue with it.
Animals seen: three good, good doggos, one weird rock that was fuzzy like it might secretly be a mythical creature.
Mood: Unfounded and unreasonable victory, seasoned with a pinch of determination.
Trail Rank: Soft trees that you can pet, doggos, waterfalls. Ranked as maximum forest mysticism, would consider becoming the witch of this mountain.